• congenital heart defects;
  • enkephalin;
  • hypoxia;
  • opioid peptide;
  • tetralogy of Fallot

Background:  Cardiac opioid peptides have been identified to exert important adaptive metabolic signalling for cardioprotection against ischaemia or hypoxia-related injury.

Aims:  To determine myocardial methionine-enkephalin content in children with hypoxemic congenital heart defects and to correlate myocardial content of methionine-enkephalin with the extent of arterial oxygen desaturation.

Methods:  Children (n= 20, median age of 16 months), undergoing cardiac surgical repair (tetralogy of Fallot, 17/20), were included in this study. Arterial oxygen saturation was measured on admission. Myocardial samples obtained during surgery were assayed via radioimmunochemistry for methionine-enkephalin content.

Results:  Greater methionine-enkephalin content was measured in the right ventricles of the patients suffering from recent cyanotic spells compared with those with no recent spells (cyanotic spells: 2418 ± 844 pg/g wet weight tissue, n= 6; no spells: 1175 ± 189 pg/g wet weight tissue, n= 14, P= 0.04). An inverse correlation was evident between the arterial oxygen saturation and myocardial methionine-enkephalin content.

Conclusion:  Myocardial methionine-enkephalin levels increase with the severity of hypoxic stress in congenital cardiac disease and may play an important adaptive role in countering adrenergic over-activity and related excess demand on myocardial metabolic capacity.